Who’s Secretive?

I don’t envy Barack Obama’s campaign advisers. Every day, they have to invent some new distraction to avoid talking about his record in office. It is only July, and already they are running low on irrelevancies. This week David Axelrod offered the opinion that Mitt Romney is the “most secretive candidate since Richard Nixon.”

Was Nixon a secretive candidate? Not that I recall. It was John Kennedy, not Nixon, who kept secret a serious medical condition (Addison’s disease) that almost certainly would have cost him the election had it become known. And, of course, it was Kennedy, not Nixon, who carried out endless secret dalliances both on the campaign trail and while in office. But let’s compare Nixon with Obama: Nixon didn’t publish a fictional memoir in his thirties to create an essentially false identity for himself. How secretive is that?

The litany of Obama’s non-disclosures is familiar. Unlike other recent presidential candidates, to cite just one example, Obama has kept his college and law school records under wraps. But that is relatively trivial. It seems to me that another instance of Obama’s secretiveness is much more significant: his refusal to release his medical records. Almost all major party nominees in modern election cycles have made their medical records public. (Bill Clinton is the notable exception.) Mitt Romney has said that he will release his. Yet in 2008, Obama did not make public any medical records at all; instead, he produced a one-page letter from a doctor to the effect that he is in good health.

I don’t doubt that Obama is in good physical health. He is a young man who golfs frequently and boasts about his prowess on the basketball court. So why does he, almost uniquely among modern presidential candidates, insist on keeping his medical records secret? There are obvious possible explanations, which hardly need to be spelled out. In his book The Amateur, Ed Klein recounts that after Obama lost a primary race to Bobby Rush in 2000, Michelle threatened to divorce him, and Obama was so depressed that friends feared he might be suicidal. Do Obama’s medical records contain references to this incident? Or perhaps to other occasions when he has been diagnosed or received treatment for depression?

This is pure speculation. Yet we know there is some powerful reason why Obama does not want voters to learn his medical history. What is it? A president’s mental health is critically important, and I have always found it remarkable that reporters show no curiosity about what drives Obama to keep his medical history secret, contrary to the practice of nearly every other presidential nominee. Perhaps the Obama campaign’s claim that Mitt Romney is the most secretive candidate since Nixon will be the occasion on which journalists finally ask: Mr. President, since you are so offended by secrecy, why can’t we see your medical records?